Grackle hoards invade Austin grocery stores; why this species is more than one can see

AUSTIN (KXAN) – You probably saw them while driving around Austin this month. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of black birds. Grackles. Although this species can be seen as an irritant, they are actually a fascinating species and may be one of the most special on Earth.

“People go out shopping at night at HEB, and you see what could be hundreds of grackles resting up in the trees,” said Grackle researcher Jessica Yorzinski of Texas A&M. She says while some grackles are native, legions of birds flock to central Texas every winter.

These birds like to hang out in grocery parking lots and along the side of major roads. Yorzinski said this is because they are attracted to the lights at night where they can stay active.

In the winter months, grakles like to rest. That’s why you do not see one or two of them together, but hundreds or even thousands sit along power lines and in trees.

Grackles as a unique species

Yorzinski said that a fascinating behavior of the species is their swarming behavior. She said this swarming behavior is uncommon for birds in the United States and is seen more frequently in Africa.

Another thing that is interesting about grackles – their eyes.

“The birds can basically move each eye independently of the other,” Yorzinski said. She and a team of researchers from Texas A&M discovered that the birds could survive. They published their results earlier this year in experimental brain research.

“They can move them when they need to, to get information that may be relevant in these different aspects of their visual space.”

The team wanted to show grackles pictures of people’s faces. There would be two pictures, one on the left side of their head and the other on the right side. They would then move the images. Each eye could follow the images independently of the other.

Basically, they could put a photo high up on the right side of the bird and one down low on the left side. The right eye would look up, the left eye would look down. They would then move the right image and the right eye would stay on the image while the left eye did not move.

Grackles are the only bird we know that can do this. They are also one of the few that have been studied.

Yorzinski and her team also examined grackle eyelids and found that they blink very precisely. “When they take off, fly, fly, and when they land, they tend not to blink as much … If you drive so fast, there are potentially lots of obstacles in the air.”

So the next time you look up at the swarming clouds of the sky, remember that these birds are more than just an annoying, car-destroying pest. They are something to keep an eye on.

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